To Trope or Not to Trope

My guest today is author Alexandra Christian, whose bio appears at the end of this post. We’re celebrating the launch of her new book, Naked. It has fantasy, science fiction, shifters, and very, very hot romance.  You can check it out here. As you may’ve guessed from the post’s title, she’s going to talk to us about tropes.

Welcome, Alexandra!

You can’t talk about the romance genre without talking about tropes. Tropes are certain conventions that appear in literature. Those comfortable little plot points that we can nestle down in and escape. Some people are of the opinion that tropes are bad. That our jobs as writers are to break new ground and blow those tired old tropes out of the water. And I can definitely understand that point of view. I like to read different stories that aren’t like every story I’ve read before. But I can also appreciate the familiarity of a tried and true trope that makes the story an escape.

We all love things we can predict sometimes. Take the success of Midsomer Murders. It’s a British detective series that’s been running for a thousand years. If you watch it on a regular basis, you start to notice a formula: a body is found, Inspector Barnaby is called away from some quirky family business to investigate, they talk to everyone in the village that has reason to want the person dead, you think you know who the murderer is until that person gets murdered before the commercial break, the killer ends up being the person you least expected, and we all live happily ever after. People tune in for it week after week because the comfort of that formula is there.

Tropes do this for romantic stories in a very effective way. We want there to be twists and turns, but we have basic elements that we look for when we start searching for a new favorite read. Here are some of my favorites:

MC in peril: Phoe Addison, the heroine of Naked, fits in easily with this trope. She is a woman that is in danger from outside forces and needs Cage’s help. I love these stories because the lovers are thrown together in difficult circumstances. They grow to rely on one another and their relationship grows through their teamwork at solving the larger problem.

Fairytales: As a child, fairytales were my favorite kind of story. Incidentally, fairytales are often romances at their core (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast… need I go on?). As a romance genre trope, the fairytale stories are often updated to present day, or transported to different settings or times in history. I love writing fairytales, as is evident in my books Beast of Burden and Huntress. In Beast, it’s an erotic retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” where the hero, Marek, is a werewolf. For Huntress, I found a very old Scandinavian dragon story for the basis of hero Malik’s redemption.

Performers: Stories where one of the protagonists is a performer of some sort (actor, musician, etc.). Sometimes they’re called celebrity romances. I think we can all identify with those. I know that I’ve been mentally dating Benedict Cumberbatch for years now. I wrote a short, summery piece called Hollywood about a romance novelist in Bora Bora who meets her celebrity crush and has a little rendezvous. Gee… I wonder where I got the idea for that?

Virgin: This trope can be controversial if the author doesn’t get the ages right. For me, the key to these kinds of stories is the slow-burning romance between the two main characters. Showcasing the alpha hero’s tenderness with an unsure lover can always bake my muffins. I tried to incorporate this trope a little in Naked with Phoe and Cage’s first love scene. Phoe is not very experienced and has been sheltered most of her life. She doesn’t come right out and say that she’s a virgin, but the concept is there.

More obvious is in the first installment of my Queen Joanna series, The Virgin Queen. It’s a medieval romance where the heroine Joanna is married off to the king, who she assumes is a cold, disfigured brute. He turns out to be quite the opposite and their story is probably one of my more luscious stories.

Protector: I know, you’re going to take away my feminist card, but I love this trope. A story where the hero has to protect the heroine in some way– those make me melt. Now, that’s not to say that in the same story, the heroine can’t turn around and rescue him right back. In Naked, Phoe is very timid at the beginning and Cage steps up and protects her from the men chasing her and from the terrible creatures that try to kill them. She’s terrified at the prospect of leaving her home and is paying this “big strong man” to help her through it. Of course, by the end, Phoe becomes a badass in her own right and has to help Cage out of some sticky situations.

So tropes can be useful tools in choosing stories as well as writing them. They can also be traps, so choose wisely. The trick is to take those comfortable tropes and give them a twist that will make them stand out from the rest.

Here’s “Caught in the Rain,” an excerpt from Naked:

There is no situation that can’t be made worse with the addition of heavy rain. Phoebe stumbled down the path behind St. John, her sensible pumps sinking into the squishy ground with every step. His long-legged strides weren’t particularly fast, but she was practically running to catch up. She was also trying to pull a bulky suitcase behind her without much luck. Finally she ran over a large rock, tipping the case over and taking her with it. She sat down hard on the wet ground, the standing water in the grass splashing up and peppering her with a spray of muddy freckles. “Damnit!” she cried, wanting to throw herself down and have a kicking and screaming tantrum. Instead she took off one of her shoes and threw it as hard as she could. It whizzed past St. John’s ear, and he finally turned.

“Problem?” he asked, strolling back toward where she sat in the grass.

“Can you slow down a minute, please?” Her tone was teetering on annoyance. Couldn’t he see that she was having trouble? So much for the politeness of the British.

He stared down at her, his arms crossed over his chest. “Actually, no. We need to get as far away from that crash site as soon as possible and you to that spaceport so I can be on my way.” He looked over the assortment of items that had fallen out of the case as it tipped over. “Got any trainers in there?”

Phoebe looked up at him like he had suddenly lapsed into Chinese. “What?”

“Trainers. Shoes. Like shoes you wear for running.”

“Oh. Not really, no.”

“Jeans? A jumper?”

“No. I didn’t think I’d be trekking through the forest,” she replied, taking his offered hand and letting him pull her upright. She limped over to where she had thrown her shoe, searching the grass.

“Is there anything in there that’s helpful or important?”

“Well of course,” she replied. “My clothes and toothbrush… anti-bac hand lotion…” She continued listing off all of the things as she pulled her discarded shoe back on. Heaving a sigh, he grabbed the suitcase and slung it as hard as he could over the ravine.

“What are you doing?” She could feel the pressure of angry tears behind her eyes as she watched all of her worldly possessions take a header down the bank, spilling her delicates over the dirty ground. How dare he have such disregard for her personal property! Not to mention that the items in that suitcase were her security blankets. There might not be anything of value or anything “helpful,” but there were things she needed! A picture of her family, her allergy medicine… her copy of Gone With the Wind. Phoebe started to run after the case, but St. John held her back. She beat her fists against his arms and chest. “Let me go! That’s my stuff! I need it!”

“Your stuff is slowing us down. Look, I said I would help you, but I’m not a bellhop or a hero! If you’re going with me, you play by my rules.” He looked up into the sky and let her go. “Come on… it’s nearly dawn.”

She watched him go, starting to reconsider her pleas for his help and then realizing that she had little choice but to follow him. They were now so far off the beaten path that she’d never find her way out. Steeling her jaw and giving a last glance back to where he’d thrown her suitcase, she started walking. Despite his growling, he did slow the pace a little so that she could keep up.

As they walked on and on, the trees rose up around them in an ominous canopy that nearly obliterated the early morning light of dawn. She could hear the stream that ran along beside them at the bottom of the ravine. It was hard to believe in their world that places such as this still even existed. It was almost desolate, but beautiful. Watching him as they walked, she slowly realized that St. John seemed almost as distressed as she felt. By now they’d been walking for hours, and in that time he’d become increasingly irritable. After several attempts at conversation, Phoebe had just given up and walked beside him silently. But his mood was starting to make her worry even more than she had been already.

“So… you don’t really seem like the normal space traveler,” he said, surprising her by breaking the silence. St. John shifted the backpack from one shoulder to the other. “What’s taking you to New London?”

“What? Oh… yes. My sister,” she replied. “I’m going to visit her.”

“Interesting,” he replied blandly.

Her heart pounded in her chest. She didn’t fully trust St. John and wasn’t sure that she should reveal her true intentions. Anyone could be working for Machine. Maybe he had been sent to keep an eye on her. Phoe was a fan of James Bond, so she had spent many an hour watching spy movies. He could be some kind of operative that was just waiting for an opportunity to steal the medallion and leave her broken body in the woods. And of course there was the werewolf thing. “Not really. I mean… it’s just a visit.”

“Well considering that no one really lives on the space colony unless they’re either filthy rich or a scientist of some sort. Judging by your clothes, you don’t appear to be particularly wealthy. So that leaves scientist.”

“She’s an archaeologist,” Phoebe answered. “She works for the Interplanetary Union, looking for natural resources and such. I’m a librarian.”

“I didn’t know those existed anymore. Libraries, I mean.”

“In small towns mostly, I suppose. I mean, I used to work for a digital archive in New Orleans, but I… I didn’t really like it there.” She bit down on her lip, wishing she could take it back. Her brain whirred, already constructing the story that she would tell him when he asked why she’d left New Orleans. Everyone asked why.

To her surprise, St. John just nodded, glancing toward the lightening sky again.

“What about you?”

“What about me?” he parroted.

“Well… what do you do?”

“I… I’m not really sure how to describe what I do. I’m a problem solver, I guess.” Given the things Phoe saw in his backpack, his problem solving skills must involve heavy artillery.

Here are Alexandra’s bio and a list of sites where you can find more information about her and her books:

Alexandra Christian is an author of mostly romance with a speculative slant. Her love of Stephen King and sweet tea has flavored her fiction with a Southern Gothic sensibility that reeks of Spanish moss and deep fried eccentricity. As one-half of the writing team at Little Red Hen Romance, she’s committed to bringing exciting stories and sapiosexual love monkeys to intelligent readers everywhere. Lexx also likes to keep her fingers in lots of different pies having written everything from sci-fi and horror to Sherlock Holmes adventures. Her alter-ego, A.C. Thompson, is also the editor of the highly successful Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series of anthologies.

A self-proclaimed “Southern Belle from Hell,” Lexx is a native South Carolinian who lives with an epileptic wiener dog and her husband, author Tally Johnson. Her long-term aspirations are to one day be a best-selling authoress and part-time pinup girl. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America and Broad Universe—an organization that supports female authors of speculative fiction.






Thanks for stopping by!

Jul 10 2017, 12:56 am 2 Comments


2 responses to “To Trope or Not to Trope”

  1. Thanks for having me on the blog, Nancy! I really enjoyed talking about my favorite tropes and getting the word out about Naked!